We all grew up hearing the phrase “respect your elders”. But in this day and age, what does that mean? Is it just for young people and what exactly does honoring our elders look like these days? As we celebrate Veterans Day across the U.S., let’s look at how we can honor all our elders.
Who is our “elder”?
The word “elder” in English comes from the archaic middle English (and possible German) meaning of old/older. In the last centuries, it has come to mean anyone older than our current age. It has been applied to parents, grandparents and anyone who is (significantly) older than ourselves.
This doesn’t only apply to children or young people. It is basic, human respect for anyone who is older than we ourselves currently are.
What does it mean to “Honor”?
Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines the verb as: To regard or treat (someone) with admiration and respect. And everyone deserves a bit of that, no? The funny thing is with respect, is that it isn’t just one thing. Respect is a road paved with small choices, that all add up. So when it comes to our elders, and the elderly (yes, even those who are difficult), how do we do this?
Small things add up to a lot
To honor someone doesn’t have to be grandiose; it truly is the little things that matter. What are some ways we can show our elders and the elderly around us some respect?
Be kind. Often the smallest of kindnesses make a bigger difference that we understand at the time.
Seek to understand their perspective. To be fair, we all get wrapped up in how we feel and often just don’t listen to what someone is trying to communicate. Life is very different than what it used to be and listening and learning about someone perspective shows great respect.
Spend time. There are groups of people who feel “forgotten” and the elderly fit into that category. Just taking a little bit of time to spend with an elder in your life may enrich their day, week or life in ways you may never know.
Ask their advice. There may be issues in your life that could use the experience and expertise from an older and objective point of view. Ageism has socialized us to feel that many older people aren’t “relevant” anymore, but it’s actually the opposite. With a lifetime of experiences and stories, we can gain a strong ally in helping to figure out our own lives.
Show courtesy. This can be done in any situation, with people we know and complete strangers. Common manners and courtesy build respect in a subtle, yet powerful way.
Ask about the heritage or family history of your elder. Getting an elder to share about themselves or family traditions is a wonderful way to connect and show respect. It ties in the aspect of “feeling seen” along with the bonding of conversation and passing on of a family culture or history.
Use their proper full name. Using only a first name may be fine with someone our own age, but using a proper name, such as “Mrs. Johnson” works best when speaking with someone who has not indicated to you that you have permission to call them by their first name. This is a tradition that dates back to their time. Even though the use of first names is common for younger people, using a more formal approach honors the elderly person in the way they are used to.
PRO Tips for honoring a challenging elder
- Take a breath or count to ten
- Be patient
- Clarify what they have said or the behavior they are showing, to ensure your own understanding
- Understand that anger, criticism or sarcasm towards you, almost never has to do with you
- Remember that the elder you’re speaking with has a lifetime of experiences that has led him or her to this moment
To show honor and respect to the elders in our community is not a “nice thing to do”. It’s a baseline human action for those who have more life experience than we do, who have their own amazing stories about life and who have had their own struggles and challenges. Our elders have so much to teach us and it’s only by honoring them that we can truly see the asset they are to our society.
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Do you have questions about how you can better support your loved one while they age in place in South Florida or regarding homecare in general? Please contact CareGivers of America here: Contact or call us toll free: 800-342-4197
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